Emergency Steering - DIY Rudder Cable Backup System for OCs and Surfskis

Emergency steering device for broken rudder cable

There are times where we are out on our canoes and surf-skis and our rudder cable breaks. It happens. And a perfectly great day can turn bad real quick. There are many creative quick-fixes one can do, and we will discuss several of them at the end of the article. But there is one in particular we'd like to focus on that can really not only help you hold a line, but create the ability to turn in a semi-controlled manner. And the great thing is...you can dial in very quickly and easily, because it is installed and ready to use when the moment comes! Thank you to Cali Paddler Frank who took the time to craft and share this great write-up. Enjoy!

Emergency Steering Broken Rudder Cable Solution

The Basics

  • The steering system is a continuous line connecting the left and right foot pedals via the rudder yoke.
Emergency Steering Broken Rudder Cable Solution
  • Pushing one pedal forward turns the rudder and pulls the other pedal back.
  • When a steering cable breaks the pedal on that side is disconnected and won't move the rudder. The pedal on the opposite side, while still connected to the rudder, will only move the rudder in one direction, causing you to paddle in a circle.
Emergency Steering Broken Rudder Cable Solution
  • Using a bungee emergency steering device the rudder is pulled to one extreme; this allows the still connected pedal to move the rudder through the full range of motion and steer.
Emergency Steering Broken Rudder Cable Solution
The Setup
  • The bungee tie point and guide are epoxied to the deck.
  • Use a bungee with a stainless steel hook.
    Emergency Steering Broken Rudder Cable Solution
  • The emergency steering device may be installed forward (bow side) or behind (stern side) the rudder yoke.
  • If installed behind the rudder yoke then the bungee is attached to the side of the yoke opposite the broken cable, i.e. if the right cable breaks, attach the bungee to left side of the yoke.
Emergency Steering Broken Rudder Cable Solution
  • If installed forward of the rudder yoke, the bungee is attached to the side of the yoke with the broken cable.

Additional Tips

When rinsing your boat it is a good time to check the steering cables for signs of fraying, and to check that the bungee is still supple.


Huki bungee loop:
Huki installation guide:
Nylon rope guide:
Stainless steel bungee hooks (these are 1/4”, 3/16” would be better. 
There are other solutions too.
While not as convenient or elegant, there are other things paddlers can do in a pinch. Remember, we are not trying to get things perfect again. Just safely get back to land. Some of these possibilities include:
  • Tying paracord to your rudder mechanics on the broken rudder side and stringing it up to the pedal and recreating the wire pulley mechanism.
  • Tying and wedging a rubber inter-tube (what you might use to tie your spare paddle to your iako if you paddle OC) to your rudder to lock it like a keel into a straight direction.
  • Wedging fabric like a shirt into the mechanics to lock it into place.
  • Wedging a energy gel pack into your rudder system to lock it into place.
  • Taking the rudder out completely. Sometimes having the rudder in and broken creates more challenge than not having one at all. Using a combination of draw strokes to steer, some might find it easier to paddle it without it altogether if a cable break. That said, if you haven't paddled a V1 rudderless canoe before, or spent time in a kayak/ski without steering, you might want to try that first.

There are many things we can do when a bad situation and are something to keep in mind should you run into a broken rudder cable situation. We hope it doesn't happen, but if it does, best to be prepared! And the solution above is affordable and worth the time to install...just...in...case!

[ Thank you Frank for the contribution and time to help the community. ]

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